Writer-director Ivan Sen reckons he learned a valuable lesson after he shot Dreamland, an experimental movie about an obsessive UFO hunter who roams the Nevada desert and discovers a deeper mystery, in 2009.
He showed a print to a French-based international sales agent who said she loved the film but admitted, “I can't sell it.” So when Sen and producer David Jowsey subsequently set up Bunya Productions, they resolved that every film would have a defined target audience.
That strategy paid off with the director's Toomelah and looks like continuing the wave of successful Indigenous films with Sen's Mystery Road. Jowsey showed a 10-minute clip of the murder mystery at a function at the Australian Film Television and Radio School on Wednesday night to launch the new edition of the school's quarterly journal LUMINA.
The issue celebrates the rise of Indigenous filmmaking including interviews with Sen, director/cinematographer Warwick Thornton and his producer Kath Shelper, director Tony Krawitz and The Sapphires scriptwriters Tony Briggs and Keith Thompson.
The Mystery Road clip caused a palpable buzz among the audience, not least for Sen's stunning cinematography in and around the outback towns of Moree and Winton. Aaron Pedersen plays an Aboriginal cop, Detective Jay Swan, who's called on to investigate the murder of a young Indigenous girl and realises a serial killer is at work. The cast includes Hugo Weaving, Ryan Kwanten, Jack Thompson and Tony Barry.
Jowsey told SBS Film the film is still in post and he hasn't set a launch date yet. He envisions a release of 15-30 screens. The $2 million film was financed by Screen Australia, Screen Queensland and the ABC. Gary Hamilton's Arclight Films has world sales rights outside Australia, and an international premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September is on the cards.
In the LUMINA interview, Sen said the film is aimed primarily at art house audiences while also “pushing hard at the fringes of the multiplexes… It will have commercial bones but it will also have an Aboriginal and a cultural perspective.”
Sen said Bunya's approach is to “target an audience and then create something for them, with an idea of the budget in mind. It makes everything achievable in a smaller amount of time.”
The Bunya-produced Satellite Boy, writer-director Catriona McKenzie's drama about a 12-year-old Aboriginal lad who sets out for the big city with his best mate after his grandfather's house is threatened with demolition, opens in Australia via eOne Hopscotch on May 16.
The AFTRS has played a pivotal role in nurturing Indigenous screen culture since Lester Bostock was hired as the first Indigenous Training officer in 1993 (running courses in Koori Television) and 1994 (National Indigenous Television). More than 40 Indigenous filmmakers graduated from the school between 1994 and 2003 including Sen, Thornton, Catriona McKenzie, Rachel Perkins, writers-directors Beck Cole, Rima Tamou, Steve McGregor and Darlene Johnson and cinematographers Allan Collins and Murray Lui. Since AFTRS alumni Pauline Clague was appointed Indigenous training officer in 2009, more than 600 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have attended AFTRS courses.
Also shown at the function was an extended clip of The Gods of Wheat Street, a six-part ABC-TV drama about the challenges facing a modern Aboriginal family, directed by Wayne Blair, Catriona McKenzie and Adrian Wills.